When I was young, my Grandma was already old. She was sixty-something when I was born, and I thought she was the oldest grandma I ever knew. She had gray hair, walked with a cane, and had veiny, arthritic hands that had worked hard all of her life.
Our youngest grandchild was born in 2017 when I was sixty-four years old. The irony of thinking about my ‘old’ grandma is not lost on me because I obviously color my hair, and during my knee replacements, I used Grandma’s cane to get around. I often look down at my hands and wonder who they belong to, but I recognize these faithful ten. They are my grandma’s hands.
Sundays after church at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Amarillo, my dad, brother, and I would go to Grandma’s for lunch. She would cook a pork roast or fried chicken, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, and have a plate with white and wheat bread on it, with a mound of margarine, not butter. For dessert, there was always a pie. Apple, peach, pecan, coconut cream, or lemon meringue, she could make them all, and each one was delicious. Grandma would perk a fresh pot of coffee for her and my dad to enjoy with their meal and pie. The coffee was perked on the stove and would last her a good two days or more.
“Pass the cream and sugar, please,” she’d say once we sat down at the table, and then she would pour a little splash of Pet Evaporated Milk, and a heaping spoonful of sugar into the dark, rich coffee to lighten it up.
After our meal, we would each pass our plates to Grandma, who would scrape our scraps into a pile to be thrown into the compost. Then my dad would take a nap and we would entertain ourselves until he woke up. Woe to the one who caused him to wake up before he was ready.
While Daddy was napping after our Sunday lunch, Grandma would make us play Canasta. Grandma was serious about her Canasta and used little round, plastic cardholders that eased her arthritic hands while she held her cards so no one could see. She could play for hours, while my brother and I often lost interest after the first round or two. But, at Grandma’s, we did what Grandma said. We could sit out on the front porch and watch the cars drive by and see the coming and going of neighbors, or we could water her zinnia’s out back or pick up pecans from under the tree. And that was the long list of activities at Grandma’s.
Martha, my grandma, was also a wonderful seamstress. She taught me to sew, and we spent hours in her bedroom with the black, push-pedal Singer sewing machine making dresses for me and my dolls. Her quilts were all made by hand, so we sat by the window and with needle in hand, took small, tight, methodical stitches which one by one created a beautiful scene. Grandma only allowed me to stitch on my own small squares of fabric, while she tended to the quilt. My favorite quilt that Grandma made was out of scraps of corduroy. The corduroy had been used to make me winter pants, and a house coat for herself, and one for my doll.
“You have to take your time, darling,” she would say to me when I got in a hurry. “Let’s rip it out and do it again.” And because it was Grandma, I did.
When my girls were young and I was teaching school, I made them special dresses and even corduroy pants with my new and improved electric sewing machine. I sewed my wardrobe each summer for the teaching year ahead, but I’ve never made a quilt. I don’t have the patience Grandma did for quilting and other things like her perfect pies.
Anyone who really knows me, knows I’m not a dessert person. I can bake the perfect Grandma pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but as Boo always likes to say, “You’re a good cook, but you just don’t cook with love.”
And that is true.
My grandkids have grown up with my slice-and-bake chocolate chip cookies, while my brother and I had homemade oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies with half of a pecan baked on top. My grandchildren have Sister Schubert cinnamon rolls for breakfast, while Jimmy and I had Grandma’s famous homemade cinnamon rolls, the size of a salad plate, slathered with homemade icing.
When our grandkids come for a visit we say things like, “What would you like to do? We’ll do whatever you want.” I guarantee that sentence never came out of Grandma’s mouth.
We know what movies are on at the theaters. We have cards for Dave and Buster’s, and we have fish sticks, tater tots, pizza, and chicken nuggets in the freezer.
“I’ll take care of the desserts,” Boo will volunteer because he knows I’m not good at sweets and also I’m likely to suggest fruit.
We have car seats, booster seats and toys galore. We record all the movies and shows they like so they don’t have to watch commercials. We take them on trips and support their scout cookie sales, and we plan our holiday decorations around what we think they would like.
My grandma had neither the means nor inclination to do any of those things, but she did what she could and quite possibly, that was more than enough. Grandma gave herself, her time, and her experience. She wasn’t gushy or overly lovey dovey, but she was dependable and kind. She was affectionate and Godly. She was simple in her ways but extravagant in her love. And I hope my grandchildren feel the kind of steady love from me as I felt from my grandma because that means more than any toy or trip.
Two weeks ago, our little granddaughter was spending the night and as I lay in bed with her, having read a unicorn storybook, she asked, “Will you scratch my back?”
“Of course,” I said, “But just until you fall asleep.”
She turned her little back to me and snuggled her soft blanket to her face, and my heart melted a little bit more. I felt her relax, and I realized the trust she has in me. I immediately thought of Grandma and how I would snuggle on her lap and ask that very same thing. “Will you scratch my back?” She always said yes, which means she has another star in her crown, for the selfless time and comfort she gave to my brother and me.
As grandmothers go, I’d like to think of myself as a good one. Nannie, they call me, and when they do, it’s like a blessing to my heart. Someday they might reflect on how ‘old’ Nannie was and the way her knees creaked when she got down on the floor, but hopefully, they’ll remember the back scratches and hours of crafting or nature walks and the abundance of love.